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As a kid, my mother taught us to put an orange on the seder plate as an act of feminism. Around that same time, she gave me a hot pink T-shirt with rainbow sparkle letters that read, âAnything boys can do, girls can do better.â It was the â80s and my passions for girl power, rainbows and Jewish rituals were ignited.
My mom, and many other feminists, passed on the famous origin story of the orange, that Dr. Susannah Heschel was lecturing in Miami, and, while she was speaking of feminism,Â an Orthodox man supposedly shouted that “a woman belongs on the bimah [pulpit] as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate.â And so, as feminists, we all added the orange as an act of resistance; a symbol of women’s rights.
But, alas, that story that I had heard and retold for decades was a myth
(IFF/Philadlephiaâs Rabbi Robyn Frisch discusses the myth here). And while I was studying at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I was quite surprised as the story was debunked by my rabbi and I learned what REALLY happened.
It was the 1980s, and Heschel was speaking at the Hillel Jewish student group at Oberlin College. While there, she came across a Haggadah written by a student that included a story of a young girl who asks her rabbi if there is room in Judaism for a lesbian. The rabbi in the story replies in anger, âThereâs as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate!ââimplying that lesbians are impure and are a violation of Judaism.
The next year, Heschel put an orange on her seder plate and shared that she chose the orange âbecause it suggests the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.â
The seeds of the orange, like other items on the seder plate, symbolize rebirth and renewal. And some folks have taken on the tradition of spitting the seeds to remind us to spit out the hatred experienced by all marginalized members of our communities.
Since the addition of the orange, other symbols have been added to the traditional seder plate (watch our fun video guide for what to put on a seder plate). Some vegetarians and vegans have added a âpaschal yam,â in place of the shank bone, which traditionally represents the paschal lamb. Others have included olives for peace in the Middle East. And some have placed potato peels on their plates to commemorate Jews who starved during the Holocaust.
Most recently I learned that members of Rabbis For Human Rights, who work to support the under-paid and over-worked tomato pickers in Florida, have included a tomato as a symbol of contemporary slavery.
âWe who believe in FREEDOM, cannot rest until it comes.â This year, as I prepare to lead the Passover seder for my family and friends, I am emboldened to add these various symbols to our plate as reminders of who is not free. What segments of my community are still enslaved? What human rights issues must be addressed?
I am empowered to take action and commit to do the social justice work to bring equality and dignity to everyone. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., âNo one is free until we are all free.â
My grandma Zelda taught me many things about Judaism and preparing for the Jewish holidays. However, what she did not teach me was her recipes. In fact, in all the years I watched and helped her cook, I donât ever remember seeing her follow a recipe or consult a cookbook. Whenever she cooked, she did it from memory.
For her huge fluffy matzah balls, I remember her telling me to mix together the matzah meal, schmaltz (chicken fat) and water. âIf itâs too thick,â she said, âadd more water. If itâs too wet, add more matzah meal.â There was no recipe to follow, just the steps she had learned from her mother, which were the steps she used her entire life and the same ones she shared with me.
Often she would tell me stories about what it was like growing up strictly kosher or what it was like living in a family of eight children.
Looking back now, I see that my grandmother taught me how to cook from memory. For the most part, if I learn how to cook something once, I can pretty much cook it again without the recipe. I know what âseason with salt and pepper to tasteâ means, and I do not measure exactly how much goes in of this or that ingredient. When I bake a chicken, I donât usually use a timer since I know how itâs supposed to look and taste when itâs ready. ThatÂ is how I learned to cook from Grandma Zelda.
More than how or what to cook, much of what I learned from my grandmother was about how to build a Jewish home (even if I donât follow the rules of keeping kosherÂ in exactly the same way she did). I learned how to let Judaism be a framework for my life, how to follow the seasons and celebrate the holidays and how to make room within that structure for my own personality and creativity. I learned the value of taking the time to prepare for holidaysânot just physically cleaning and cooking, but spiritually, too. I learned from her how to gather my family around me and how to make the observance of a holiday meal more meaningful. I learned how to open the door to those who come from other backgrounds and traditions.
This will be our first Passover since my grandmother passed away and my first time hosting Passover in my own home. It feels like an honor, a duty to carry on this tradition and a very large task for which I will need a lot of help. In large part, itâs about the food, but itâs also about the rituals and about the memories.
I know that our Passover seder this year will look and feel different from the Passover meals we used to have at Grandma Zeldaâs. It will be the first time not being in her home and the first seder without her. I will think of her every step of the way as I clean my house and prepare for my guests. We will light her Sabbath candles on the first night of Passover, we will fill her Miriamâs cup and I will prepare and teach in her honor. I will cook with my memories, and I will cook from memory, just like she taught me.
This article was reprinted with permission from Jewish Food Experience.
Passover meant a big seder, with my grandfather chanting at the end of the table. My cousins and I would scramble around the house, hunting for the afikomen. Then my uncle would play the piano in the basement while we all sang. It was a wonderful holiday.
Passover also meant skipping my usual PB&J and taking buttered matzah to school, wrapped in aluminum foil. I remember how the butter would melt into shiny globules, and Iâd rub them in with my finger. There was something nice about being âThe Jewish Kidâ in the class, with my special food. I loved the rituals. I liked the hyper-awareness of Passover, the symbolism of the seder plate. Mortar and tearsâthe sense that everything mattered.
And while we didnât celebrate Easter religiously at our house, I did get a basket from my (Catholic) mom, filled with jellybeans and chocolate eggs. This was nice, tooâthat while I got to be âThe Jewish Kidâ I also didnât feel totally left out of Easter. Sometimes there was a neighborhood parade and we made Easter hats from cardboard, glue and feathers.
Then came a year when the holidays overlapped. My parents were newly divorced, and not communicating well. My mom did her best with Passover. If memory serves, I took my matzah to school like usual. But then on Sunday morningâŚ I got my Easter basket. Filled with bright jelly beans.
I tore into it, of course, mouth filled with sweetness, until I crunched through a blue candy shell into the crisp goodness of a malted robinâs egg. And suddenly, it hit me. Easter wasnât Kosher for Passover! I spit the candy out into my hand, confused. What should I do?
For the next few days, my Easter basket sat on top of the fridge, waiting for me. I remember staring up at it, thinking about how it wasnât fair, that nobody else I knew had to wait to eat her candy. But the truth was, my dad wasnât there to enforce the rules anymore. It was all me. I had put the basket on top of the fridge, and I felt conflicted, but also firm in my resolve.
Years later, as an adult, the holidays overlapped again, and remembering the basket on the fridge, I did a funny thing. I assembled a Kosher-for-Passover Easter basket for myself. I did a good job, hunted down fruit-gels and made chocolate-covered matzah. The basket looked lovely.
But you know what? It was no good. It didnât make me happy at all. Staring at that basket of fruit slices and jelly rings didnât feel the same as waking up to an Easter basket. Not remotely. It feltâŚ wrong.
I think sometimes, in the interfaith community, we seek to smooth the ruffled feelings, to reconcile all our conflicts and contradictions. We want to believe that weâre creating families in which everything can blend, fit and make sense. But hereâs the thingâsome things are distinct, even mutually exclusive. Some years, choosing to keep Kosher for Passover means not eating Easter candy. And thatâs annoying, but also OK. Things donât have to be easy to matter.
In a way, I feel like I undermined the essence of each holiday in that Eastover Basket I made. For me (and I can only speak for my own experience), Passover is about the restrictions, the rigor. Passover feels powerful because of its deprivation. And for me, Easter baskets are the oppositeâabout abundance, sheer pleasure.
This is fine! These two holidays donât have to blend. Each holiday holds a special place in my memory. Easter and Passover can co-exist without merging. And you know what? The truth is that all the most meaningful experiences of my life have included conflict. Every deep relationship Iâve had has been imperfect, particular and occasionally inconvenient. Often, rituals matter most when we have to wait for them, or forego something else. Sometimes, conflict serves a purpose.
When I was a kid, I stared up at my Easter basket on the fridge and thought about both holidays. I owned them both and recognized that they both mattered to me. That year, for the first time, I truly decided to keep Kosher for Passover. It mattered more than it ever had before. And then a few days later, I decided to eat my robinâs eggs.
They were delicious.
When I was growing up, I always looked forward to my familyâs Passover seders. One of my favorite parts of the seder was the songsâand not just the songs that were in the haggadah, like âDayenu,â âChad Gadyaâ and âWho Knows One?â Â I also loved the silly song parodies weâd sing each year at our seder based on (somewhat) modern songs, like âTake Me Out to the Sederâ sung to the tune of âTake Me Out to the Ballgame,â âThereâs No Seder Like Our Sederâ sung to the tune of âThereâs No Business Like Show Business,â and âThe Ballad of the Four Sonsâ sung to the tune of âClementine.âÂ (You can click here to find the words to these songs and others.)
As corny as these all seem to me now, I can still remember how clever I thought they were when I was youngâand how they didnât cease to amuse me each year.
In recent days, with Passover approaching, some of my friends have posted Passover parodies of pop songs on Facebook, and theyâve reminded me of those parodies we used to sing at our seder when I was young. So, for fun, I thought Iâd compile a list of my favorite Passover song parodies. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Although Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez probably didnât realize it when they composed the song âLet it Goâ for the movie Frozen, they had written the perfect phrase to be parodied as a Passover song.Â And it was parodiedâendlesslyâin 2014. One of the better videos, in my opinion, was âLet Us Go,â made by members of Congregation Bânai Shalom in Westborough, MA.
2. But my favorite Frozen parody by far was Six13âs âChozen (A Passover Tribute).â It even included an introduction with John Travolta flubbing the name of the group, just as he had mispronounced Idina Menzelâs name when introducing her to sing âLet it Goâ at the Oscars.
3. Just as 2014 was the year of the âLet it Goâ Passover parody, 2015 was the year of the âUptown Funkâ Passover parody. Aish HaTorahâs âPassover Funkâ was a great parody of the Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars hit song.
4. But again, my favorite version of 2015âs most-parodied song for Passover was by Six13. Their âUptown Passover (An âUptown Funk for Pesach)â put them at the top of my Passover song parody list for the second year in a row.
5. Following up on the success of their 2014 âLet Us Go,â members of Congregation Bânai Shalom in Westborough, MA, did a great job parodying Meghan Trainorâs âAll About That Bassâ in their 2015 âAll About Those Plagues.â Having noted in a blog that I wrote this past December that most Hanukkah pop song parodies that I liked were by all-male groups and that I hoped to see more women and girls coming out with some awesome parodies, I love that the Bânai Shalom videos feature more than just young men. I can relate to the woman who wrote on YouTube about âAll About Those Plaguesâ: âI must congratulate you. I’m so tired of these all-male Orthodox groups having a near-monopoly on Jewish holiday videosâŚ [This video] features a wide diversity of ages, genders and even races. That’s what Judaism is about…â
6. Felicia Sloinâs Video âBatyaâFloating in The Reedsâ is a fun parody of Adeleâs âRolling In The Deep.â And again, it was nice to watch a video featuring a woman.
7.Â And finally, hereâs another video featuring a woman, this one a funny take on the foods that can and canât be eaten on Passover: Julie Gellerâs âU Can’t Eat This,â a parody of MC Hammerâs âU Can’t Touch Thisâ that you donât want to miss.
With Passover less than a month away, Iâm disappointed that I still havenât seen any good 2016 Passover pop song parodies. Maybe the Maccabeats (famous for their âCandlelightâ parody of Taio Cruzâs âDynamiteâ and many other songs) will release a video before Passover. I can hopeâŚ and if they donât, Iâll just have to watch âU Canât Eat Thisâ a few more timesâŚ or break out signing âTake Me Out to the Seder.â
Whatâs your favorite Passover song parody?
We love Mo Willems books in our house! My little one just brought home one of his gazillions of titles called, I Really Like Slop. As I have written before, I now see the world through interfaith family lenses. When we read this story, all I could think about was interfaith couples at Passover! How in the world did I make that leap?
The book tells the story of Piggie presenting her friend Gerald, the elephant, with a pot of her slop. Gerald looks at the smelly concoction with trepidation. He asks some questions about the make-up of the slop. Piggie begs him to try some. She explains that itâs part of Pig culture! Gerald touches his tongue to the slop and chokes and gags. Piggie asks Gerald if he likes it. Gerald explains that he does not like it, but he does like Piggie. And he is happy he tried it.
As are all of Mo Willemsâ books, this story is precious and even poignant. It made me think about someone who didnât grow up with, letâs say, gefilte fish, being presented with it for the first time at a Passover seder. This person is no doubt sitting with a significant other at their parentsâ house, surrounded by family and trying to fit in and make a good impression. This person is trying to avoid any cultural faux pas. They may be worried that the haggadah (the book read during the Passover meal) will be read aloud going around the table and that there will be unfamiliar words and transliterated Hebrew to navigate (on four cups of wine, no less). And, now this person is presented with this foreign, kind of smelly food, with a gel-like substance wiggling around on top.
If you were brought up with this food and donât like it, it is easier to dismiss it. But, for a newcomer, how does one politely excuse themselves from trying it? (Especially if is homemade. This usually makes it a lot better than if itâs cold from the jarâalthough some people love that. Who am I to yuck your yum, as my childâs feeding therapist implores.)
What Piggie and Gerald teach us is that we donât have to like our partnerâs cultural things. They donât have to become ours. We donât have to feel comfortable eating the food or donning certain garb. We donât automatically have to feel comfortable with the language, traditions or dances. Maybe after experience and time, we will come to like things. We will make them our own. But, maybe we never will. And, thatâs OK. Showing respect, asking questions, learning about and even trying aspects important to our loved ones is what matters.
Happy prepping for Passover!
In March 2015, InterfaithFamily conducted its 11th annual Passover/Easter Survey to determine the attitudes and behaviors of people in interfaith relationships during Passover and Easter. The survey attracted 1,136 responsesâan increase of about 21% over 2014. Of those 1,136 respondents, 730 said they were in interfaith relationships. Of those, 501 have children and of those, 444 (89%) are raising their children with some Judaism, though not necessarily exclusively.
To simplify our findings, here are the top 10 things we learned from just those 444 respondents. (Of course, this does not reflect the behaviors of interfaith couples in general, or the behaviors of all interfaith couples with children, and the figures should not be reported as representative of all interfaith families.)
1. Passover matters. The overwhelming majority of respondentsâmore than 92 percentâcelebrate Passover, and for most, it had some religious significance. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being âdeeply religious,â 67% rated Passover a 3, 4 or 5. Only 7% said it was entirely secular. For those who were having or attending a sederâ420 respondentsâmost said it would include a seder plate (94%), reading from a Haggadah or telling the Passover story (92%), food rituals like dipping parsley in salt water, making a matzah sandwich, etc. (93%), hiding the afikoman (85%) or discussing the meaning of Passover (76%). And going to a seder wasnât newâ99% had been to or hosted one before.
2. Itâs about the kids. When asked why they celebrate Passover, the vast majority of respondentsâmore than 86%âsaid âto share the holiday with my children,â and âsharing the holiday with my kidsâ was also respondentsâ favorite part of Passover. Almost 70% said they were looking for âways to make the seder fun for kids.â
3. And food. 86% of respondents said they would be eating matzah as one of their Passover activities, with 49% following dietary restrictions for most or all days of Passover. And the resource people wanted most, next to ways to make the seder fun for kids? Recipes.
4. If youâre going to buy a Haggadah, Maxwell House is still the haggadah you count on. More than half who responded said they use a store-bought haggadah (54%), and of those, 25% were planning to use the Maxwell House Haggadah this yearâmore than any other haggadah mentioned, which we found surprising considering how many new haggadahs are on the market these days. However, of those who planned to use a store-bought haggadah, 36% were not sure/couldnât remember which one and 26% said âOtherâ to the haggadah options we providedâusing everything from Sammy Spiderâs Haggadah to congregational haggadahs. More than 8% planned to use the 30 Minute Seder and 7% said A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah.
5. Interfaith families look for resources to meet their specific challenges. 41% of respondents were looking for resources to make the seder comfortable and meaningful for relatives and friends who arenât Jewish, while 38% wanted help navigating the Easter/Passover overlap. 88% would be or might be interested in a haggadah specifically for interfaith familiesâweâll have one ready next year!
6. Many interfaith families raising their kids with Judaism also celebrate EasterâŚ About half of respondents (49%) said they would be participating in Easter celebrations this year, and another 16 percent said that they âmaybeâ would.
7. âŚ But itâs a secular holiday for most. 59% said it was an âentirely secularâ celebration. Most celebrations centered around Easter egg hunts or basketsâ56% said they would be participating in an Easter egg hunt, and 51% said they would be decorating eggs, while 47% said they would give Easter baskets to kids or extended family. Another 55% would be attending an Easter meal at the home of family or extended family, while 15% would host an Easter meal (vs. the 47% who host a Passover seder).
8. Easter is not seen as a threat to Jewish identity. Likewise, 62% donât think celebrating Easter will affect their childrenâs connection to Judaism. (27% said not applicable, which may mean that Easter is not celebrated.) Said one, âItâs a secular celebration thatâs basically just having food with family. I was raised Jewish and I still ate Easter candy, decorated eggs, etc.â
9. Most do not struggle or expect to struggle with observing Passover and/or Easter, but of those who do…Â Of the 444 respondents, 261 responded to this write-in question asking what they struggle with, and many of those simply said these holidays weren’tÂ a struggle for their family. Responses included:
âMy in-laws are extremely open and welcome my Passover traditions at their Easter mealâthey regularly put out matzah, without a request from me, and make desserts that are flourless for my benefit.â
âNone. Weâve been doing this long enough, we have it down,â another said, while a third remarked:
âI expect the same challenges that I experience in other areas of my married life with a partner [who is not Jewish]. There are many areas of negotiation with this part of our identities; we practice good communication in order to resolve and acknowledge differences. There [are] always going to be challenges of understanding, of belief and of acceptance.â
Of those who answered with a specific struggle, some cited in-laws and extended families, or balancing the needs of both partners or holidays. Said one, âWe have wondered whether to let our son eat Easter candy that contains corn syrup during Passover,â while another struggled with âRestrictions on my children eating chametz or bread during Easter.â Some cited in-laws and extended families as a concern, or simply that the extended family wants their children to observe holidays differently than how they are being raised. Several people expressed frustration with these family members not understanding or appreciating the Jewish holiday or trying to balance everyoneâs needs during the two holidays.
One respondent said âMy Catholic Motherâshe is trying very hard to be supportive, but struggles to find a way to feel connected to her grandchildren during holidays,â while a spouse said: âI love Easter merchandise: the colors, the bunnies, the eggs. I find all of it so cute but I don’t buy my daughters any of it because we’re raising them fully Jewish. It can be hard for me.â
10. Passover is a âlot of workâ holiday.Â We were interested to hear why people think that surveys often indicate fewer interfaith couples participate in Passover seders than couples where both partners are Jewish. The overwhelming response was that Passover is a holiday celebrated at home and takes a lot of work; that it can be intimidating if it is not a holiday you grew up celebrating and the rituals are unfamiliar. As one person explained, âPassover is pretty involved. It’s a lot more than just showing up for a one hour service at a church. It takes a big commitment.â
Another said, âTry[ing] not to hurt anyone’s feelings, not having all the resources, not knowing where to start,â while a third responded, âIt takes a serious time/travel commitment to attend one or both seders, especially if they’re during the work week. We typically return to my parentsâa four-hour drive awayâso if one member of the couple doesn’t take that commitment seriously, it’s hard to do.â
If you, like me, are past the age of 40, you may remember years ago hearing the claim that Little Mikey of LIFE cereal fame died from the explosive effects of mixing Pop Rocks candy with soda pop. Or you may have heard that childrenâs television show host Mr. Rogers (Fred Rodgers) always wore long-sleeved shirts and sweaters on his show to conceal the tattoos on his arms he obtained while serving in the military. Or perhaps youâve heard that alligators live under the New York City sewer system. But, in reality, none of these stories are true. Theyâre all âurban legends.â And Iâm proud to say that I never believed any of them (well, except the one about Mikey and Pop RocksâI did believe that one for awhileâŚ).
But thereâs another urban legend, one connected to the Passover seder, that Iâve believed for years. In fact, Iâve told this story many times at my own seders. Itâs the story of the âorange on the seder plate.â And until this week, I always thought the story I told was trueâafter all, Iâd heard it so many times, and read it in so many different places.
The story goes something like this: Professor Susannah Heschel was giving a lecture in Miami Beach, when a man stood up and yelled: âA woman belongs on a bimah like an orange belongs on a seder plate.â In order to show that women DO belong on the bimahâthat women have the right to a place in Jewish ritual and in Jewish leadershipâHeschel and others began to place oranges on their seder plates. (According to another version of the story, the man yelled: âA woman belongs on the bimah like a piece of bread belongs on the seder plate.â Wanting to make a point about womenâs rightful place in Judaism, but not wanting to place bread, which is forbidden on Passover, on her seder plate, Heschel replaced âbreadâ with âan orange,â since the incident took place in Florida, âThe Orange State.â)
I learned the story of âthe orange on the seder plateâ sometime in the late 1990s, when I was a rabbinical student. At the time I was in my early 30s, hosting my own seders for the first time.Â Like many of my colleagues, I strived to make my seders authentic, relevant and meaningful by balancing tradition with creativity and innovation. I embraced the traditional symbols of the seder (the four cups of wine, matzah, egg, parsley, etc.) and also newer symbols, such as Miriamâs Cup and the orange. For the past 15 years or so, when Iâve gone to the produce store to buy parsley, horseradish and apples and nuts for my charoset, Iâve made sure to purchase an orange for my seder plate as well. And at every seder Iâve hosted, Iâve shared the âstory of the orange on the seder plateâ and how it represents womenâs equality in Judaism.
But recently I found out that the story Iâve been telling simply isnât true. Hereâs the TRUE STORY, in Professor Susannah Heschelâs own words, from an article that she wrote for The Jewish Daily Forward in 2013:
âAt an early point in the sederâŚI asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
âWhen we eat that orange segment, we spit out the seeds to repudiate homophobia and we recognize that in a whole orange, each segment sticks together. Oranges are sweet and juicy and remind us of the fruitfulness of gay and lesbian Jews and of the homosociality that has been such an important part of Jewish experience, whether of men in yeshivas or of women in the Ezrat Nashim.â
Heschel went on to write of the Miami Beach lecture urban legend:
âThat incident never happened! Instead, my custom had fallen victim to a folktale process in which my original intention was subverted. My idea of the orange was attributed to a man, and my goal of affirming lesbians and gay men was erased.
âMoreover, the power of the custom was subverted: By now, women are on the bimah, so there is no great political courage in eating an orange, because women ought to be on the bimah.
âFor years, I have known about women whose scientific discoveries were attributed to men, or who had to publish their work under a male pseudonym. That it happened to me makes me realize all the more how important it is to recognize how deep and strong patriarchy remains, and how important it is for us to celebrate the contributions of gay and lesbian Jews, and all those who need to be liberated from marginality to centrality. And Passover is the right moment to ensure freedom for all Jews.â
Iâm glad to have finally learned the âtrue storyâ of âthe orange on the seder plate.â And now that I know it, will I still put an orange on MY seder plate this Passover? I sure will! But, like Professor Heschel, Iâll invite each of the participants at my seder to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit that grows on treesÂ and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted, interfaith couples and families and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.
After all, the Passover seder is very much a time for asking questions (for the importance of questions in the Passover sederâbeyond the âFour Questionsââsee my blog from last year about the seder). And if Iâve learned anything from discovering the truth about the urban legend of the âorange on the seder plate,â itâs that we need to constantly be questioning: even those things that weâre confident we already âknow.â
When I was little, my mom made a huge deal of the Passover afikomen hunt. The prize for finding the broken pieces of matzah throughout the house was the hot toy of the day (I vividly remember the year of the Beanie Baby craze).Â She also created an elaborate Easter egg hiding game in which one rhyming clue (starting on our pillows in the morning) led to another, with a big basket filled with eggs as the grand finale. What is the allure of the hide-and-seek element of both Easter and Passover? Do they have anything in common?
As early as the age of peek-a-boo, hiding and finding is a huge part of our development of object permanence. Dad leaves the room but itâs OK! He still exists and will come back in a minute. Just because we canât see or hear something doesnât mean itâs gone. Then, as we grow, the basic game of hide-and-seek excites us for an amazingly long stretch of years. I have to imagine, as my kids are playing hide-and-seek with me at the park, that the moments when I canât see themâwhile panicky for meâare exhilarating for them. A sweet taste of future independence. Perhaps our spring rituals capture the excitement and expectation of these early forays into mystery and autonomy.
Both Passover and Easter share a theme of rebirth in springtime. For Christianity, Christâs rebirth is symbolized in the egg. On the seder plate we place an egg as a symbol of hope, recalling the Israelitesâ escape from slavery and birth as a free nation. Although in Judaism, the egg isnât hidden, both rituals harken back to celebrations of the bursting forth of life at this season that far predate either religious tradition and are shared by many peoples around the world.
But when did people start hiding Easter eggs? Legend has it that the Protestant Christian reformer, Martin Luther, held egg hunts in which men hid the eggs for the women and children. Some Christians have claimed the egg as a symbol of Christâs tomb, symbolizing his rebirth, and the hunt for eggs was likened to the hunt for Jesus in the tomb. There are images of Mary Magdelene with an egg as well. The Easter bunny didnât enter the picture as the deliverer of those eggs until the 17th century.
The afikomen ritual clearly has very different origins, and there is no evidence that the hide-and-seek rituals are linked. Afikomen means âthat which comes afterâ or âdessertâ in Greek, and the hunt for it is a clever ploy to keep kids engaged in the often lengthy seder until the end. The kidsâ elevated role is in keeping with the entire Passover experience; the holiday ritual is an elaborate scheme to pass the story of enslavement to freedom onto children.
How does it work? Early in the seder, the leader breaks the middle matzah on the table and leaves half of it as âdessertâ to be eaten after the meal. Then after everyone has eaten, the leader cannot close the seder until the dessert matzah is found and eaten. Families enact this in myriad ways, but here are two popular options:
Either way, the ritual empowers children. Itâs always fun to put one over on your parents. But the kids also learn that while they often feel less important than adults, at this moment they are powerful!
What about bringing these overlapping spring rituals together in an interfaith home? This is a matter for each family to decide. But some might find it comforting to know that egg painting in springtime is a tradition older than either Judaism or Christianity and it celebrates rebirth, hope, life and fertility. In fact, some Israelis even remember growing up decorating eggs for Passover, and might find it surprising that American Jews donât generally approve of it on the grounds that in the United States, it is associated with Christianity. There are important historical reasons why some customs have become considered off limits in order for Jews to retain their particular status as separate from the dominant culture around them. But if you end up with a colored egg on your seder plate, you are far from alone. It is common enough that a great guidebook for grandparents of interfaith grandchildren is called, Thereâs an Easter Egg on Your Seder Plate.
How will you celebrate this year? Do spring traditions overlap or collide in your home? When planning a seder or Easter rituals, think about what you want to convey through the games and symbols you share. Think back with your partner or other family members about the rituals you each grew up with around the spring holidays and share what was meaningfulâor confusingâabout them. Articulate what you need out of the experience to feel personally and spiritually fulfilled. Together, explore the messages you hope your kids will take away from this season.
Like all Jewish holidays in my family, Passover with my family is an entirely interfaith affair. There are Catholic adults and kids, Jewish adults and kids, Christian adults and kids and one 92-year-old Russian Orthodox (Christian) grandma.
But the emphasis is on the kids: Between my brothers and me, we have 10 children. My brothersâ are Catholic and Christian and mine are Jewish, and so, itâs important to me that the Passover seder is interesting and fun and meaningful for them.
For as long as I can remember, our family has used the Maxwell House Hagaddah. The old oneâŚfrom 1932âŚwhich I love and have fond memories of. But I wanted something different, something more accessible for the under-18 crowd and for a group that is mostly not Jewish.
I never thought about creating my own until my friend and colleague, IFF COO Heather Martin, told me about the one she created for her family, and shared it with me. I was hooked. I wanted our own personalized haggadah with silly Passover songs sung to the tune of âMy Favorite Thingsâ and âTake Me Out to the Ballgame!â You see, while this may not constitute a very traditional haggadah, whatâs important to me is creating a seder in which family members who are not Jewish feel comfortable and connected, and in which all of the kids participate and enjoy.
And so, using Haggadot.com and JewishBoston.com and some of Heatherâs haggadah as a jumping-off point, we made our own. We cut and pasted and pulled bits and pieces from different sites, including a quiz for the older kids at the end.
It was a big hitâthe seder was fun and silly (vital for the under 7 crowd) and accessible and interesting (important for everyone else). Most importantly, it was relevant to our familyâit made sense for the people sitting around the table, who mostly werenât Jewish but were there to celebrate Passover in a way that was meaningful. We left a lot out in order to create an abridged version that worked for my family, and I made sure to include the pieces that were most important for me to share the meaning of the holiday. Yours might look completely different, but youâre welcome to use this as a starting off point, or even to bring into your seder if you wish.
Here it isâtake a look. Like it? Hate it? Iâd love to hear what you think.
The following is a guest blog post by Rabbi Evan Moffic, who is not a member of our staff but his wife, Rabbi Ari Moffic (Director of IFF/Chicago) is!
Win a copy of Rabbi Evan Moffic’s new book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover!
Nothing brings people together like food. It is no accident, then, that among the most popular holiday for interfaith families is Passover. It is not only popular because it features prodigious amounts of food. It is popularâand meaningfulâbecause of the spiritual message it conveys. This message matters for Christians and Jews. And itâs a message that can bring interfaith families closer together.
I believe so powerfully in this message that I wrote a book about it this year. The book was published by Abington Press, and it has spent several weeks as the top-selling book on Jewish holidays. Clearly, the Passover message resonates. Hereâs why.
1. We are all searching for freedom: On Passover we recall the way God led the Israelites from slavery to freedom. We see the tools God gave them to rediscover that freedom in every generation by asking questions, praying, celebrating and retelling the story. As we do so, we shed light on the journey of our own lives. We ask ourselves where and how we might be enslaved. Are we enslaved to our possessions, our work, our addictions, our desire to please others?
2. We can all learn from one another: I passionately believe that religious and spiritual people can learn from traditions different from our ownâperhaps especially from those traditions that are our next-door neighbor traditions, which is how I think of Judaism and Christianity. As a rabbi, I have found great inspiration in the description of love from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. My own prayer life has been transformed by what I have learned from pastors and Christian writers. Quite often, I learn more about my own faith when I encounter it with new questions and concerns prompted by those who do not share it.
I believe the same growth can happen for Christians interested in deepening their own faith. Passover in particular holds spiritual invitations that can speak powerfully to Christians. Passover was observed by Jesus. It is a holiday centered around family, food and freedom. It is accessible and relevant to Christians of all denominations.
3. We can see ourselves in the story: In a recent class I asked members of my synagogue what the Exodus story meant to them. Did it affect their self- understanding? Could they see themselves in the story? All of them said yes. They frequently connected the Exodus with their family history. Many had grandparents and great-grandparents who emigrated from Europe to the United States. They fled poverty and persecution to build a better in life here. America was their Promised Land. Europe was their Egypt.
More recent Jewish immigrants echoed this message. Between 1967 and 1991, almost half of the entire Jewish population of the Soviet Union left for freedom to Israel, America and other Western countries. They saw their journey as an exodus from oppression to freedom.
In churches where I have led Passover seders, I’ve asked the same question. Some draw on their family history. More often, however, participants saw the Exodus in the context of their spiritual journeys. A participant who became a Christian later in life saw crossing the Red Sea as a symbol for baptism. He had fled the oppression of his past life for freedom as a believer and follower of Jesus. Some women saw the Exodus story as a paradigm for gaining freedom from the past and strengthening their role in the Church.
Regardless of who we are, Passover reminds us we can gain our freedom. We can become the person we are meant to be.
Evan Moffic is the Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL, a community of 500 families on the North Shore of Chicago. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 and was ordained by Hebrew Union College in 2006. He appears regularly on CNN and Fox NewsÂ and writes for the Huffington Post, Beliefnet and his blog at www.rabbi.me. His first book, Words of Wisdom: From the Torah to Today, is a spiritual introduction to Judaism. His second book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover, makes Passover come alive today for people of all faiths.Â